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Central Standard

Kansas City Woman Receives Recognition For Work During WWII

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Colonel Bob Moore, Commemorative Air Force (CAF)
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The B-25 Mitchell 'Show Me' bomber.

During World War II, 18-year-old Mary White spent her days soldering wiring on the instrument panels of B-25 Mitchell bombers at North American Aviation in Fairfax, Kansas. A true Rosie the Riveter, White never thought of it as a sacrifice — it was her duty to her country. She also never thought she would be recognized for her work, certainly not 70 years later.

In 2012, while attending an air show at Olathe’s Naval Air Station, White spotted a familiar piece of machinery: a B-25 Mitchell, in the flesh. She approached Colonel Bob Moore, who was operating the booth nearby.

“Can I touch it? Can I touch it?” White remembered asking.

She began to tell him her history, and Moore realized there was a good chance it was one of the aircrafts she had worked on — the plane had come off the assembly line during White's years at the plant.

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Credit Mary White
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Mary White, aboard the B-25 Mitchell 'Show Me,' 2012.

The crew of Commemorative Air Force (CAF) found the plane — now called “Show Me”— and restored it to its original condition, complete with original, though inoperable, bombs, machine guns and bullets lining the inner walls. As word got around that White had done the wiring for the plane, the crew embraced her, named her their mascot and insisted that they take her on a ride.

“This was a 71-year-old plane!” White said.

Seventy-one years old and loud enough to blow out your ear drums, but White wasn’t scared. There was one hitch, though: boarding the plane.  

“The ladder was straight up. Climbing a ladder straight up is very difficult for my legs. The pilot came up to me and he said, ‘I’ll apologize to you now, but we’re going to get you on the plane.’ And he gave my butt a boost,” she laughed. “Without his help, I wouldn’t have done it.”

White isn’t the only Rosie in Kansas City; there are several women — including Norma Bowers of Pratt & Whitney, and Naomi Wurdeman of North American Aviation—now in their late 80s and early 90s, who worked long, hard hours on the home front to support the war.

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Credit Mary White
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Mary's first date with her husband, who served during WWII, in 1945. They were married three weeks later.

“It’s only been in the last two or three years that Rosies have been brought back into the spotlight,” White said.

“Women did not work in 1944, and when the war started, all the men were either enlisted or drafted. I believe that’s how women got their start in the workplace, and they’ve kept it up. I think that’s why Rosie is coming back. She has a spot in history for that.”

Since the air show three years ago, the crew members at CAF have stayed in touch with White, and she makes an appearance whenever they’re in town.

“I never imagined in a million years that anything like that could ever happen to me,” White said. “My grandkids think I’m famous! Because I’m Rosie the Riveter.”

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Central Standard World War II
Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.